History: Witch Hunts In Ireland

Witch Hunts In Ireland


In Ireland the manic pursuit of witches seems not to have reached the fever pitch it did elsewhere. This was probably partly due to the strong tradition of the Celtic arts and the acceptance of folkloric activities. Another reason could well be geographical remoteness and communication difficulties that would naturally cut down the spread of malicious gossip.

The first notable case was that of a Dame Alice Kyteler in 1324 in Kilkenny. She, her son and many of her servants were charged with heretical practices and occult activities. The trial was instigated by the Bishop of Ossory, who had been trained in France. Petronilla de Milda or Meath, probably one of the Dame’s maids, became the first victim recorded as being burnt at the stake. This case is notable because it is the first time that stories of mating with demons and pacts with Satan are mentioned. Dame Kyteler apparently escaped retribution.

The last recorded witch trial to take place in Eire was that at – Magee Island in 1711. This trial was different to other witchcraft trials in that it was linked to poltergeist activity, which is now thought to be caused by an excess of psychic energy, particularly in pubescent girls.

The household of James Haltridge, the son of a deceased Presbyterian minister, seemed to be the butt of pranks and practical jokes, apparently by an unseen hand. It was not until his mother died soon after feeling a pain in her back that neighbours believed that the perpetrator was Mary Dunbar, a servant girl who was apparently showing signs of demonic possession.

Dunbar named eight women who allegedly had the power to send her into hysterics. These women were found guilty by jury, although the judges could not agree, and the sentences handed out ranged from a year in jail to undergoing four appearances in the stocks.